Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, and those who were lucky enough to have been involved with it are reminiscing about what has made it such an enduring classic. Widely considered one of the best films of all time, The Godfather launched Al Pacino’s career. Now aged 81, Pacino has been looking back on the making of the gangster epic.
Speaking to the New York Times, Pacino describes how he was plucked from obscurity (okay – he had won a Tony for his stage work) by Francis Ford Coppola, who was determined that Pacino play Michael Corleone, despite resistance from the studio; “they rejected his entire cast! They rejected Brando. They rejected Jimmy Caan and Bob Duvall. There was conflict.”
Pacino also describes genuinely believing that Coppola (who was just over 30 at the time) had gone mad when he offered him the role; “Not only was he directing it, [breaking into laughter] but he wanted me to do it. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh here. It just seemed so outrageous. Here I am, talking to somebody who I think is flipped out.”
Pacino continues; “And he wanted me to do Michael. I thought, OK, I’ll go along with this. I said, yes, Francis, good. You know how they talk to you when you’re (mentally) slipping? They say, “Yes! Of course! Yes!” But he wasn’t. It was the truth. And then I was given the part.”
Pacino was asked if there was a moment while making the film when he realised it was going to be great; “You remember the funeral scene for Marlon, when they put him down? It was over for the evening, the sun was going down. So, naturally, I’m happy ’cause I get to go home and have some drinks.”
“So I’m going back to my camper. And there, sitting on a tombstone, is Francis Ford Coppola, weeping like a baby. Profusely crying. And I went up to him and I said, Francis, what’s wrong? What happened? He says, “They won’t give me another shot.” Meaning, they wouldn’t allow him to film another setup. And I thought: OK. I guess I’m in a good film here. Because he had this kind of passion and there it is.”
At the age of 83, Coppola is currently in pre-production on Megalopolis, starring Zendaya, Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sonny Corleone himself, James Caan. Pacino is also showing no signs of slowing down, having appeared in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irishman and House of Gucci in recent years.
If you’re interested in more quality fare, such as The Godfather, check out our guide to the best drama movies.